Liberating repentance – Acts 10; 34-43

I’m going to draw out from Acts 10; 34-43 what makes the Gospel transformational, and suggest how we can engage it more fully.

The short speech by Peter was made after he’d been summoned to meet a Roman centurion.  Peter willingly went to meet him after having had a vision where Peter was being told to eat food that Jews considered unclean.  In the vision he was told “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.”

Peter is describing what he learnt from the event, and it efficiently describes why  I am a Christian.

First of all Peter declares “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.”  In short, God loves you and me equally to the Jews.  We are ALL allowed to share in the life giving message of the good news of Christ.

Peter then describes that he personally was witness to the facts that:

  • John baptised Jesus, at which point God anointed Jesus with the Holy Spirit
  • Jesus went around doing good and healing people
  • Jesus was crucified
  • Jesus was raised to life on the third day, and appeared to those selected to be his witnesses
  • Jesus told them to preach that He is the one who will judge the living and the dead
  • And finally that everyone who believes in Jesus will have their sins forgiven

The first four points bear witness to who Jesus was.  But I want to focus on the last two points. That Jesus will judge the living and the dead, and that everyone who believes will have their sins forgiven.

If we are honest, we’d rather not be judged at all.  Perhaps we are living quiet lives, keeping our head below the parapet.  We come to church on Sunday and we just want to be left alone until we die when we hope to go to heaven.

If we are to be judged, we don’t want our neighbours or friends judging us.  And when we see what the Tabloids say about people, we certainly don’t want society to judge us.

We probably get angry at anyone who dares to criticise us – “who are they to judge?  They’re no better than me! Hypocrites!”

What about Jesus judging us?

Jesus – the human incarnation of infinite goodness.

The one who gave every moment of his life to heal, teach and serve.

The one who allowed himself to be sacrificed by crucifixion, and still forgave those who nailed him to the cross.

Jesus.  We can’t be angry with Him – he’s certainly no hypocrite.  We can probably accept that he has the right to judge us, but maybe we are still not happy with the idea.

Deep down we know that if Jesus were to judge us he would see SUCH shortcomings in our lives.

  • Our petty grievances with our neighbours, with our fellow Christians
  • Our contentment to live in comfort whilst we know that there are others who have nothing
  • Our consumerism, looking for the cheapest product that then keeps the poorest in poverty and makes those in work put in more hours at lower pay than they can manage
  • Our readiness to get in our car to go anywhere, to take cheap overseas holidays, to travel on a whim, leading to overheating of our planet and the mass extinction of so many species

And that’s before we get to more obvious ‘sins’…

And yet we probably don’t ‘feel’ like sinners.

When I was on the cusp of becoming a Christian I had been told that I needed to ‘pray the sinner’s prayer’.  This is what I wrote in my journal:

I sit down – I’m not ready for kneeling yet – and start to read the prayer…

 “Dear lord I have sinned…”

 The trouble is…I don’t feel like a sinner.  Yes, I know that I could be a lot better than I am, but I just don’t feel it at the moment.  So I start to pray that God will help me to make the step from logic to feeling.  At least I try to do what I think praying is ….  I wonder if I’m doing it right.

I didn’t ‘feel’ like a sinner – but I recognised that I needed to.

If we don’t ‘feel’ our sin, then we need help.  We can pray, like I did, for God to help us make the step from logic to feeling.

A little later in my journal I wrote:

My daughter had organised her own birthday party, with half a dozen friends coming round for a ‘scary party’.  It was impressive to see them all dressed up as witches and devils (and a cat!?).  However, for some reason I was rather grumpy.  I didn’t get into the party spirit and got rather short with all the mess, and split drinks and so on.  I wasn’t very sympathetic when my daughter got upset that no-one was listening to her, and tried to explain that they couldn’t help it if they got distracted.  At the end of it I felt that I had let her down.  I don’t know if she noticed particularly, since it was rather a busy affair, but that was how I felt.  I felt like a sinner.  Was someone trying to tell me something?

But if we can ‘feel’ our sin, if we can let the Holy Spirit show us our shortcomings then we will surely fear his judgement.  That is in part what it means to fear God.

And recognising our sin is the start of healing.  When recognise what we are, when we see through our masks of self-justification, and we don’t like what we see!  We want to be different, we want to change.  That is what repentance is – honest assessment followed by determination to change.

I recently watched a TED talk by Eve Ensler, and activist for women.  She was talking on the profound power of an authentic apology.  She describes how her father abused her, but that he’d never apologised – never repented.  She describes the process of repentance.  In her words:

Apology is a sacred commitment. It requires complete honesty. It demands deep self-interrogation and time. It cannot be rushed. I discovered an apology has four steps, and, if you would, I’d like to take you through them. 

 The first is you have to say what, in detail, you did. Your accounting cannot be vague. “I’m sorry if I hurt you” or “I’m sorry if I sexually abused you” doesn’t cut it. You have to say what actually happened. “I came into the room in the middle of the night, and I pulled your underpants down.” “I belittled you because I was jealous of you and I wanted you to feel less.” The liberation is in the details. An apology is a remembering. It connects the past with the present. It says that what occurred actually did occur. 

 The second step is you have to ask yourself why. Survivors are haunted by the why. Why? Why would my father want to sexually abuse his eldest daughter? Why would he take my head and smash it against a wall? …..  My father had to live up to this impossible ideal, and so he was never allowed to be himself. He was never allowed to express tenderness or vulnerability, curiosity, doubt. He was never allowed to cry. And so he was forced to push all those feelings underground…

 Those suppressed feelings later became Shadowman, and he was out of control, and he eventually unleashed his torrent on me. 

 The third step is you have to open your heart and feel what your victim felt …. You have to let your heart break. You have to feel the horror and betrayal and the long-term impacts of your action on your victim. You have to sit with the suffering you have caused. 

 And, of course, the fourth step is taking responsibility for what you have done and making amends. 

 So, why would anyone want to go through such a gruelling and humbling process? Why would you want to rip yourself open? Because it is the only thing that will set yourself free.”

This is SO important.  This is what Jesus is talking about when he says “Repent of your sins and turn to God”

When we repent we still feel the guilt of our past mistakes.  I still feel angst thinking about that party.  And this is where the final point is Paul’s speech brings such freedom:

“Anyone who believes in Jesus will have their sins forgiven.”

Perhaps this seems a little unfair – what about someone who doesn’t ‘believe in Jesus’.  Are they not forgiven?  Well clearly they will not be able to believe that they are forgiven.  We have to believe that Jesus has the authority to forgive our sins in order to accept that forgiveness.

Maybe it’s actually more serious if we claim to believe in Jesus. We know the theory, but have we really repented?  Do we really know that freedom that we are forgiven?  How can we tell?

I actually found the TED talk above when I was looking for a quote about activism:

“An activist is someone who cannot help but fight for something.  That person is not usually motivated by the need for power, or money or fame.  But in fact is driven slightly mad by some injustice, some cruelty, some unfairness, so much so that he or she is compelled by some internal moral engine to make it better.”

So my question is, are we activists for Christ?  Have we repented and turned to God with such deep honesty that we “cannot help but fight for Him”, such that we are “compelled by some internal moral engine to make it better”

And if not, it’s time we did something about it.

Let’s pray that God shows us our sin, that we can understand why we do it, that we can feel what our ‘victims’ feel, that we take responsibility for it and that we commit to making amends.

That is the only thing that will set us free.

(Delivered as a sermon – January 2020)

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Four things to check in manifesto costings

During an election all parties make commitments to do things which cost money.  Voters expect them to put a cost against each item.  Commentators then add up the costs and say that this is what each party is going to spend.  This process is way too simplistic to make meaningful comparisons.

Spend v invest

 If I spend £5000 on a holiday, when I get home all I have left are the memories.  If I spend £5000 on a car I have both the asset of the car and the cost saving of reduced bus fares.  I have ‘invested’ in the car, instead of ‘spending’ on the holiday

If a government ‘spends’ on purchasing assets, particularly those which will generate revenue, then this is investment – and a saving for the future.  The assets of the nation will have increased.

Similarly, if a government sells off assets and then spends the money it is really a ‘spend’ and should be reported as such – spending our savings.

The cost of unemployment

As a civilised society we provide a safety net for those who are unable to work at a given time.  If a government ‘spends’ money on something that allows them to work then there is an immediate saving in benefit payments.  Plus there is an increase in government income from tax and NI contributions, and VAT on whatever the person purchases with their income.

Maintaining health and Correcting past shortfalls

A household could cut down on their spending by stopping eating.  This is clearly a crazy thing to do, leading to wasting and death.

Similarly certain basics of infrastructure of society need maintaining, without which society becomes sick and will eventually fall apart.  Making ‘savings’ in these areas are extremely costly on the health of the nation, and correcting past shortfalls takes more time and effort to remedy than if the ‘saving’ was not made in the first place.

The cost of impatience

If you want something immediately it always costs more than if you are ready to wait.  We can pay a high price for ‘same day delivery’ or we can get free delivery in a few days time.

A government can also make expensive choices from impatience.  Setting a deadline by which a deal has to be done significantly weakens the negotiators hand and will always lead to a more costly deal

So when we look at election costings we must not simply look at a totaled up figure.  We really need to think about what category they are in.  Are they investment,  are they too high due to impatience,  are they compensating for past under-investment,  are they allowing people to contribute usefully to society through good jobs?

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Great Britain? I hope so.

Eighty years ago this nation was at a crisis.  Politicians of the day worked together for the good of Britain and Europe.  The monarch was respected and brought hope to the people suffering – visiting Coventry after the horrific bombings, addressing our nation and urging us to pull together to fight against fascist powers that were oppressing the poor, the weak and the scapegoat Jews.  It was a time where national values and pride meant doing the right thing for our neighbours.

Fast forward to today.  We have in power an unelected leader who is treating our Queen with contempt, as a tool to be used as he sees fit.  We see those in high office treat our honourable institution of parliament with utter disrespect – lounging on the front benches. New scapegoats are created.  Our traditions are trampled.  Unelected oligarchs and manipulators hold powerful positions.  The similarities with the fascist regimes that “Great” Britain united to defeat are startling.

We will have a general election soon.  It will be a test.  Has our nation abandoned the values that we once held dear, and for which men and women gave their lives in our finest hour?  Or will truth and goodness prevail?  This will not be an election about Brexit, but it will be a test of what we are as a nation.  It will be a test of our values.  I hope and pray that we will choose truth, justice and honour.

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Amazon Rain-forest Fires – are we being hypocritical?

Pictures of the burning Amazon rain-forests are horrifying enough to bring despair.  Surely the world is doomed unless they stop!

Easy to say, isn’t it.  And I have found myself responding like that to the media attention.  But is that really the situation?   Is this just a smokescreen (no pun intended) to distract attention from deeper problems?  Let’s see if we can find the facts:

Carbon uptake in the Amazon is important.  The following article https://phys.org/news/2017-02-carbon-uptake-amazon-forests-region.html  points out that the carbon captured by the Amazon rainforests is equal to “four times the UK emissions for 2016”.  It is also equivalent to emissions in the region.  The nations of the Amazon are carbon neutral!

The  entire combined emissions from deforestation and fossil fuels  from the nations in the Amazon is only four times the emissions of the UK.   UK emissions are about 1% of global emissions. https://www.ucsusa.org/global-warming/science-and-impacts/science/each-countrys-share-of-co2.html .  China emissions account for 28% of global emissions.  The same site shows the emissions per person, with the top few being Saudi Arabia, USA, Australia and Canada at over 15 tonnes per person per year.  By contrast Brazil emits 2.17 tonnes per person.  France (with reference to comments from M Macron) emits twice that – and remember that France has a lot of nuclear power.

Clearly the countries of the Amazon are not the culprits in producing carbon emissions.  But consider why they are burning the forest.  They want to improve their standard of living, fulfilling a market ‘need’ for food.  And which capitalist country can argue with that?  Why do they want to improve their standard of living?  Because they are nowhere near the top. Brazil ranks 62 in the quality of life index. UK ranks 18th and USA 13th.  https://www.numbeo.com/quality-of-life/rankings_by_country.jsp

So the scale of the problem is small compared to the global emissions of the rest of the world, and the reason for the burning of the forests is to improve the standard of living of the population in the only way possible in the capitalist culture of the modern world.

And things have improved considerably in recent years.  Deforestation in the Amazon is roughly a third of what it was at the turn of the century: https://rainforests.mongabay.com/amazon/deforestation_calculations.html  and is ‘reasonably’ stable at around 80% of the 1970 levels.  This is not to say it is not important, but that perhaps most of the damage has been done.

If we in the west value the contribution that the rain-forests make to the world then we should pay for it.  We should not be sanctioning, or even threatening to invade (which I saw suggested on one site).  We pay for oil, which we then use to produce CO2 for our comfort, so we should pay those who capture our carbon.

In fact, there are mechanisms in place if we are willing to put our money where our concerns are, then we can each do something to reduce deforestation.  Here is one example: https://www.carbonfootprint.com/brazil_para_redd.html. Why not commit to offset all your personal emissions in this way? And before you ask, yes, I have – my emissions for the last 35 years.

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Parable Lives

Recommended reading:

via Parable Lives

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How should we respond to climate change? – A Christian perspective

The earth’s climate has seen dramatic change. Four and a half billion years ago, the earth was formed.  Its atmosphere had massively high levels of carbon dioxide, and there was very little oxygen.  Miraculously, life originated in this extremely hostile environment, and for the next one and a half billion years or so the cyanobacteria began cleaning up the atmosphere and enriching it with oxygen and allowing the formation of the protective ozone layer.

Over the next two billion years the beautifully designed process of evolution took those earliest forms of life and developed them into the staggering array of life that we take so readily for granted today.   Darwin hinted at the beauty of the process in the final paragraph of his book “the origin of species” when he wrote “There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.”

So it is clear that man-made climate change will not destroy the planet, nor will it extinguish life.  But it will disrupt the extremely finely balanced ecosystem that sustains the human race.  That disruption will enlarge areas of local extinction of humans (desert regions), and in the extreme the whole planet could become unsuitable for human life.  Whilst wealthy countries are able to create local ‘microclimates’ with technology, for example air conditioning, people sentenced to live in the ‘natural’ local climate will inevitably suffer and may face extinction.  We already see an increase in suffering from natural disasters such as the cyclone Idai, and other increasingly destructive climactic events.

Greater parts of the world will become uninhabitable not just for humans, but for the cornucopia of other species who thrive in the environment that spawned us.  New species will emerge, but many of our present ‘friends’ will disappear.

The first book of the Bible describes how we were given the world to look after.  It is clear from the description above that if we don’t look after it then it will not be taken away from us, but we will be taken away from it.  This is reminiscent of the description of Adam and Eve being taken away from the Garden of Eden: the garden still thrives, but they were no longer in it.

God allows us to do things that harm us.  He doesn’t want us to, but he allows it.  Such action is called sin.  The basis of the Old Testament law was that God gave us rules that would bring us wellbeing, but our selfishness leads us to choose ways that harm ourselves and others.  Greed, lust, envy, and all the ‘sins’ damage both us and our neighbour.  Climate change is damaging to us and to our neighbour, and so the actions that leads to climate change are ‘sin’.  God permits us to damage the planet that sustains us, but it is not His will.  And disobeying the will of God is sin.  It is not good for us to do it!

There is not space here to fully discuss how we, through our actions are hurting God themselves, but we might empathise by imagining how we would feel if after giving a loved one a beautiful gift – perhaps a bunch of flowers,  we see them slowly trashing it, picking off one petal at a time.

So, how should we, as Christians, respond to the challenge of climate change?

First of all, we must recognise that it is real! (see for instance https://climate.nasa.gov/effects/)

Climate change is not the sin, but the consequence of our sin.  We need to reflect on what sins are the root cause of climate change.  Greed, selfishness, gluttony, envy will be high on our list, but a thorough examination of our lifestyle (in the context of and comparison with the other seven and a half billion people on the plant) must bring insight.

We then need to ‘repent of our sins and turn to God’.  There is surely enough evidence that we know that we are sinning, but we need to let the evidence sink into our hearts and truly convict us before we can honestly repent.  Until we reach that state then we might feel a little guilty but we will not have the power that comes from true repentance.  We need to be so convicted that we get on our knees, confess, and ask for forgiveness.

We must work with God to eliminate our sinful behaviour. We will need to be bold, counter-cultural and outrageously attractive in our approach.  We are Christ’s representatives, and our response has to mirror his character. And we must encourage our brothers and sisters to do the same.  Not only must we turn from our damaging practices, but we must do our utmost to relieve the suffering of those whose homes and livelihoods are ruined by the changing climate.  A radical change in our lifestyle must include loosening our grip on our wallets.

For example, we need to ask ourselves why we need to go to America, or China, or Australia for our holidays, for a speaking engagement, or for work.  99% of the world’s population cannot afford these luxuries – and yet many are closer to God than we are.  http://www.globalrichlist.com/

We have to challenge every decision of where we spend our money.  Should we always buy the cheapest, or should our buying decisions be made to minimise planetary damage?

We can make reparation for the damage caused by our personal sin.  We can ‘offset’ our carbon emissions, for example “Climate Stewards helps you to offset unavoidable carbon emissions by supporting community forestry, water filter and cookstove projects in the developing world”.  Some are beginning to do this for holidays or the odd long haul flight, but that is surely just lip-service.  Should we not examine our carbon emissions over our lifetime and offset them?  (see https://www.climatestewards.org/) At only £20 a tonne, many of us are in the privileged financial position to be able to do that.  There is real potential for tree planting projects to ‘buy some time’: https://www.sciencenews.org/article/planting-trees-could-buy-more-time-fight-climate-change-thought.  And churches can do the same, committing to offset past energy usage and adding carbon offset as a statutory spend each year.  It is much easier if we all make the commitment together.  Leadership from our Bishops can help here.

Those of us who live comfortably in brick houses in rural England can send financial assistance to those whose pole and dagga houses are swept away by floods or typhoon. (see https://www.christianaid.org.uk/emergencies/south-asia-floods-appeal)   As James says:  “Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, and you say, ‘Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well’—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do?  So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless.”  Communication is so good that we see our ‘brother or sister who has no food or clothing’ daily on our TV’s or computer screens.

We will of course fail to live up to our aspirations, but we can try. And when we fail, God’s grace will free us to try again.

And finally a thought about our legacy.  The younger generation are worried.  Environmental issues are at the top of their concerns.  And the younger generation tend not to know Christ.  We have a wonderful opportunity to bring them hope, both for a world to live in and from a God who loves them.  That is a far better legacy than bequeathing a scorching earth that is hardly able to sustain human life.

Let us be at the forefront of change, not dragging our feet but leading the way to a sustainable future.

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The blog I never wanted to write: Stage 4 Breast Cancer

From a lovely lady – deserves this to be shared

via The blog I never wanted to write: Stage 4 Breast Cancer

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We can all afford to help.

In the west, if our fence blows down we can usually afford to fix it without any worry.  In Mozambique, they have suffered a devastating cyclone, with 90% of Beira damaged or destroyed.

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/mar/19/cyclone-idai-worst-weather-disaster-to-hit-southern-hemisphere-mozambique-malawi

I was heavily involved in setting up the Casa Reom centre for street children.  It suffered severe damage.  Can you help them recover from this disaster?  Every little helps…

https://www.give.net/CycloneAppeal

 

 

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The universe is so big and has been here so long …

Big Bang was about 14 billion years ago; the universe is older and bigger than we can possibly imagine.  Dinosaurs were on the earth for over a hundred million of years, a thousand times longer than the humans have been around. And looking at the population of the world today, as an individual among 9 billion people alive, In comparison with the totality of space and time, each individual is surely completely insignificant.

But… there is an alternative.

If God exists they must be bigger than all this, and older than all this and they must have had a reason to bring the universe into being and sustain it, and to wait while the stars and planets formed and reformed, life began and evolved, and  mankind emerged and developed.  And if, as many of us believe, they sent their son to teach us and to die for us then we move from being completely insignificant to enormously significant.

But perhaps it still seems an awful lot of effort for God, too much to believe perhaps. But think about the effort that we put in to the smallest of things used for enrich a very short period of time.  Think of how much time, energy and space goes into making a simple gold ring with a diamond on it, and getting it to a shop so that someone can buy it to propose an engagement.  Just compare the size of the gold and diamond mines with the end product – let alone all the work needed to refine, shape and manufacture the ring, and to transport it to the shop.  We are pleased to do all that, God’s work just takes things to a bigger scale…

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Before the universe began.

The bowler beats the bat and the ball hits the batsman’s pad.  There is a loud appeal and the umpire calls for ‘hawkeye’ to predict where the ball was going. Hawkeye is a system that tracks the flight of the ball and predicts, using the laws of physics, where the ball would have gone if the batsman’s pad had not got in the way.  The batsman’s innings depends on the prediction.Those same laws of physics and tracked trajectory of the ball can be run in reverse, to predict where the ball came from.  The prediction will be completely accurate back until the point when the ball left the bowler’s hand.  The prediction will extrapolate back a series of parabolas, to infinity.

It’s common sense.  Hawkeye makes valid predictions where the assumptions included in the model are correct.  But where the assumptions break down, the prediction will be wrong.  So it is with all science.  Where assumptions break down then science will be wrong.  We test our assumptions where we have data – back as far almost as the beginning of the universe, but we cannot test beyond there.  And so although science can make predictions of what was before the beginning of the universe, it would be wrong to believe them.  We have to accept that we don’t know, and can never know whether there was a ‘bowler’ or whether the ball came bouncing from infinity…

The headline of the following and similar articles are therefore completely misleading

Stephen Hawking Claims To Know What Happened Before The Big Bang

although the text is more accurate: “Hawking had previously said in one of his lectures that the events that occurred before the Big Bang have no consequences that can be observed, therefore they are not defined because there is no way to measure what happened…….  Even the amount of matter in the universe can be different to what it was before the Big Bang, as the Law of Conservation of Matter, will break down at the Big Bang.”  Hawking recognised that the laws of physics ‘change’ …. allowing the existence of the ‘bowler’.

 

 

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